“I think we have a lot of good things in store, and I know that my team can keep moving forward ...” first-year Khazia Hislop said after a Jan. 20 meet against No. 3 Florida. “Hopefully, at the end of the season, we can come out and do well because I know we can.”
As the season winds down, and with the EAGL Championship on the horizon, North Carolina (9-3) can’t help but be encouraged with the progress it’s made as a relatively young team.
Last season, UNC placed second in a majority of their meets and only ranked first during their season-opening meet against William & Mary. But this season, the Tar Heels have nine wins and are 5-1 against other EAGL teams.
The difference between the two seasons is the 11 first-years on this season’s team. Juniors Madison Nettles and Kaitlynn Hedelund have kept it light in the gym, helping the first-years get acclimated.
“It’s given the freshmen the sense to be like that, too,” head coach Derek Galvin said. “At times, the atmosphere in training can be intense. It still needs to be intense, but you gotta be able to breathe.”
Among the talented first-year class, a new star has taken the floor by storm. Hislop scored a 9.925 for her floor exercise against New Hampshire, tying her career high and matching teammate Morgan Lane for first place.
Hislop also has been awarded the EAGL Rookie of the Week honor for three weeks in a row — and she’ll be nominated again for this week.
“I was a little shocked,” Hislop said. “I thought maybe this was a one-time thing, but I’m just really happy and hopefully I continue with how I’ve been doing.”
As the players adjust to the new level of competition, Galvin stresses having fun while still focusing on their performance. And when he can’t get through to the gymnasts, he turns to a few of the upperclassmen to provide some comic relief and constructive criticism.
Lane, a junior all-around, has set an example for this young team. During the Pink Meet, her advice to have fun and trust their training stood out to Hislop — who watched Lane score not as highly as she hoped on the balance beam but still smile at the little victories during her routines.
“She’s awesome, I love Morgan so much,” Hislop said. “Since day one, she’s always been one of the ones who will give you advice if you need it, and is always there if you need to talk. She’s a role model inside and out of the gym, and it’s really nice to be able to have her to look up to every day.”
While Lane might not be as goofy as Nettles and Hedelund during practices, her demeanor doesn’t go unnoticed. Allowing the little smiles to creep onto her face when she sticks her landing — or even whispering words of encouragement to the newbies before they launch into their vault — is what being a role model is about.
When elementary school-age gymnasts came out onto the floor to perform before the awards ceremony, Lane couldn’t help but smile.
“All these little girls out here, I want to be the best role model I can be for them,” Lane said. “Not just on the competition floor. I try to have the character that I think would make a good role model for them, so that’s a huge inspiration to me.”